The war in Ukraine has raised serious questions about Russian military technology. For years many analysts suggested that the Russian military has made little technological progress since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The promotion of superweapons was merely to distract the world from the fact that Russian conventional forces aren’t prepared for 21st-century warfare.
A tweet by Alex Hollings highlights the disparity between the F-35 and Su-57 production lines. In the top image, a single Su-57 can be seen in what appears to be a much slower production line. This indicates issues with parts supplies or funding. It also suggests that Russia may find the Su-57’s stealth capabilities unsatisfactory, thus making mass production risky. In comparison, the F-35 production line appears to be in full swing.
Russia may be giving up on the Su-57, instead focusing on its other 5th gen fighter, the Su-75 ‘Checkmate’. The Su-57, though more agile than the single-engine F-35, has a much higher radar cross-section and significantly less advanced electronics. It was essentially Russia’s attempt at making a competitor to the F-22. Meanwhile, the upcoming Su-75 is a single-engine fighter that is almost certainly a response to the F-35.
Russia seeks to emulate the F-35’s mass production with the introduction of the Su-75. Though the F-35 program had a range of hiccups, the United States is content with its “flying computer”. As the replacement for not only the F-16, but F/A-18, A-10 and others, the F-35 is the jack of all trades. Part of the reason for this is cost reduction. It is far cheaper to design a single aircraft capable of all missions rather than designing multiple specialised aircraft. As aircraft rely increasingly on their electronics, beyond-visual range weapons and stealth, the importance of other factors such as speed and agility have decreased.
Russia’s archic electronics won’t be sufficient in order to make the Su-75 a true competitor to the F-35. Despite declarations that local parts will be used, it is likely that Russia will pursue Chinese technology instead. As Russia will probably secure a deal for Chinese components, stealth would be the primary focus for Sukhoi.
Russia’s “artisinal” Su-57 lacks the stealth characteristics and advanced electronics typical of 5th gen fighters. Its low production numbers are a clear indication that Russia is aware of its weaknesses. Coupled with the fact that it is a twin-engine, therefore more expensive to produce and maintain, Russia will presumably double down on making the single-engine Su-75 the ‘saving grace’ of Russian military aviation.